Tag Archive for Globalism


Diamonds are a girl’s best friend, and

there they are—Diamonds, throned

upon a golden stud, glitter beneath

chandelier over red carpet, illuminate the

mesmeric azul of her irises, scintillate

supplication O lord look over here,

O my, how lovely you are tonight, dear.

I never knew you were so beautiful. Diamonds.


Diamonds are girl’s best friend, and

there they are—eighteen carat diamond

studded bronze/gold bracelet on

Home Shopping Network. Slouched,

faded blue velvet, glimmer/shimmer under

studio glare. Thousands of women all over the world

sigh with bored envy at $239.99

that tightwad husbands would never spend on them. Diamonds.


Diamonds are a girl’s best friend, and

there they are—earth-dusted diamonds

wheelbarrowed out from the yawn of crepuscular chasms

in South Africa, to be cleaned and sorted

by sooted, callused palms, rough

from handling heavy stones. The sun

hammers merciless rays upon strong backs

lifting sacks of jewels into thundering trucks. Diamonds.


Diamonds are a girl’s best friend, and

there they are—diamond stippled

petroleum probe masticates the

somber depths of everything forgotten. Diamond

molars grind the unfathomable recesses

beneath our feet for blackness to inject unsanitary

needles into the pulse of the world. Diamond jowls

swirl the earth around in their mouth, spit into

sink. Diamonds.


Diamonds are a girl’s best friend, and

there they are—murky, embryonic diamond’s

swelling umbilical cord one deep mile

beneath the infinitesimal womb of

the world. They are restless,

one day they shall grow strong

and white, and kick themselves up

to the surface, stillborn, screaming, smiling, eager

to please. Diamonds.

Letter from Argentina

The first semester of my senior year of high school was spent as an exchange student in Viedma, Argentina. Living with a host family in a far away land was an experience which has humbled, matured, and enlightened me in many ways I could never have imagined. It was an experience from which I learned not only about a foreign culture and another language, but also equally, if not more, about my own culture and about myself. About once a month I composed an e-mail to send out to friends and relatives to inform everyone how my new life was going down in the Southern hemisphere. This is the first of six letters that I wrote. As a postscript, it should be known that letters I wrote after a couple months experiences conveyed a much more positive, enthusiastic tone and dealt more with insightful observations and epic adventures. Letter number one, however, deals with the confusion, headaches, and homesickness that any successful exchange student experiences and overcomes.



September 15, 2002


Hola a todos—

Every time I tilt my head up toward the sky there is a neatly shaped V of birds tugging in the summer; they’re going South to Patagonia. I am jealous of these birds as they migrate down to the end of the world, to where I very much wanted to stay for my time here as an exchange student. Perhaps they are Arctic Terns, which migrate eleven thousand miles each year from Patagonia to Alaska. Perhaps these same birds have flown over my home back in Wasilla. I wish I knew more about ornithology.

I chose Argentina for my host country because it was a Spanish-speaking country with a wide swath of mountains running up and down its Western edge that I had always dreamed of seeing, but apparently AFS (American Field Service, the exchange oraganization I’m with) has done their best to send me as far as possible from those dramatic horizons, here to Viedma, across the continent from the nearest hill.

So I confess for the first week or so after I arrived I could not have invented a single comment about this place that was remotely positive. In my plans I had envisioned something like a six-month vacation somewhere further South, someplace where everything would be distinct beyond recognition from back home, and ideally I wouldn’t have to go school because it would be my job to stay home and tend the family’s herd of llamas.

However, do not let me give you the impression that I am totally distraught. Although I am not exactly in the exotic picture of South America I imagined, I am learning how to make the best of it, aprovecho (I make best use of it). There is beauty everywhere, in anything. There is art waiting to be realized in the piles of trash and heaps of pruned branches that people dump at the edge of town. There is a romance to the wheat fields freshly ploughed for spring and the ranches that fold forever into the flat and featureless horizon. There is an aura of timelessness that hangs above the river winding lazily through town like fog on a cool morning. Additionally, there are many convenient aspects of living closer to a city that I am learning to make use of. I enjoy riding a bike to school, a badass “Beach Commander 2000” that looks like a 1970s concept of a mountain bike. And if I had hoped for a more spectacular landscape here, perhaps my host family had hoped for a more exciting person than myself. I swear I’m doing my best to be a lot more social than I am normally. It sounds like my friends from school here are even going to make me go to El Boliche, the dance club. Though you know I would rather spend the evening sealed inside a cardboard box with a heap of glass shards and fish entrails than in a dance club, I am going to try it. Another thing I am looking forward to is trying out a kayak. Kayaking is a popular sport here since no one is ever more than a five- or ten-minute walk from the riverside. Apparently Viedma, in all Argentina, has the most kayaks per capita.

Try to imagine this, my first impression of where I shall live for the next half-year. I arrived in a zombie trance after a twelve-hour bus ride in the dark from Buenos Aires to Viedma. I awoke just as the bus was pulling in to the station. Through blurry eyes, I spotted waiting at the platform outside my window two very hopeful looking people whom I had seen before in a picture that my host family had sent to me—they were my new parents. The striking, trim woman with high leather thin-heeled boots and a smart dress was Bella, my host mother, and the tall man with dark hair in khaki slacks and a T-shirt and thick glasses was Tony, my host father. They took me to my new home where I immediately fell asleep.

When I awoke, I didn’t know whether I had slept for an hour or three days. I had no idea where I was, why, how, &c. After lying in bed racking my brain for the next minute or so, I remembered all the traveling I had done during the last few days. With a sickening wrench of my stomach, I for the first time truly wondered what the hell I had gotten myself into and how I had ended up here.

Downstairs my six new family members were all having lunch. My new family members include my parents Bella and Tony, my two younger sisters Pilar and Belen, and two younger brothers Jose and Roberto. Two days later, though, we took the eldest son, Jose, to the airport to leave for the U.S. to be an exchange student as well. I guess I’m his replacement.

After a lot of confused, albeit amicable, conversation with my new family over lunch, what appeared to be an unhappy marriage between an ancient Volkswagen bug and a small truck, full of excited people, pulled up to the house, the horn honking emphatically and the ill-sounding engine gunning. I followed Jose as he shuffled out of the house and we piled into this little creature with five other friends of his to go cruise town. We went to go dar vueltas—literally, to go in circles. Everyone except myself had dark hair, dark skin, and dark eyes and was dressed head to toe in distressed denim. They wore jeans with pre-faded material and pre-ripped holes from years of use they never had; cigarettes hung casually out of their mouths and they spoke rapidly in a tongue that to me was muddled and incomprehensible.

The main road here runs adjacent to the Rio Negro through the middle of town. It’s a half-mile strip of pavement which we drove up and down no fewer than twenty times, accelerating over speed bumps as if they were jumps and slowing down occasionally to whistle and yell at girls. Everyone kept chanting something about Chupe. (The verb chupar means “to suck.” Later I learned that Chupe was Jose’s nickname that had evolved from Jose to Giseuppe to Chupe; that changed my idea about what I had imagined them to be talking about in the car.) The little city sped by over and over as they all asked me if I like to drink, do I have a girlfriend, do I like to party—and if not they told me we’d get busy with all that right this weekend.

We live in a big brick house in the city. Here the houses are constructed so that usually two houses share the a central wall. If I walk outside and look down the street I can see about fifteen neighboring homes. Quite a change from the seven acres of woods surrounding my home back in Alaska. The Rio Negro is maybe four hundred meters from our house. It is an enormous body of water, maybe four hundred meters from shore to shore. I greatly enjoy its presence. Just to have a large body of water near the house is a thrill if you’re not accustomed to it. They tell me in the summer everyone goes to the shoreline to spend the day—to swim, nap in the shade, have a picnic.

If I were to sum up my first three weeks here so far in a word I would choose confusion. It feels as if I’m never completely sure what’s going on or what I’m supposed to do. From what I have seen so far it is pretty much the exact opposite of Alaska, but all the people here have been incredibly kind to me. My family here are all wonderful people, I have a lot less responsibility, and school only goes until noon. As far as the language, it still feels like everyone has collaborated to play a clever trick on me. It is as if every time someone speaks, their words pass through some devious, invisible filter that scrambles them in to a string of incomprehensible gibberish. I had imagined that the four years of Spanish I studied in high school would help out a lot with my efforts in mastering the language, but I have found that I still have miles to go before I sleep and can actually understand what in the world all these people are talking about all the time. I have found that the easiest people to talk with are my youngest siblings, who have smaller vocabularies and usually speak more slowly. It is already hard for me to write this in English so I suppose I am going to learn the language whether I want to or not.

I have been spending a great deal of time running, though it is tough to be so self-motivated. I miss cross-country. Some days it feels like everything sneaks up on me all at once and all I want to do is go home. There are days when I would give anything just to see one pathetic little mountain, to have some thick woods where I could go for a quiet walk, to have all my hammers and saws back in my callused hands and to have some dirt back under my my fingernails, so these are the times when I go for a run. I search for someplace I have not been yet, usually as far away from the city as I can go. Running clears my head; it makes everything seem more tolerable. I’m ready to give anything another chance after I have run far enough. I run down lonesome dirt roads out in the country and the cows look at me funny across the barbed wire as I run by, their gazes follow me as I pass as if I were holding a string attached to each of their snouts. I stir up flocks of prismatic parrots nesting in the scrub brush and they swarm above me by the hundreds, screeching angrily at my presence. The animals are all surprised to see something that passes on foot rather than wheels. Some days when the clouds look just right I can pretend they are mountains, the tall white pillars in the distance something solid and tangible rather than just suspended ice particles. The sky grows pink then red and finally purple like a swelling bruise, like a fistfull of melted Crayola, then ultimately healing into blackness. The stars appear and fill the sky in a completely different pattern from back in Alaska. Everything is better.

I don’t want to hog the computer anymore. I think Pilar (fourteen-year-old sister) has friends to chat with. Hope to hear from



Mother Tongue

My name is Jiniku but everyone calls me Joey, including my parents. My father is American but my mother is not. My mother grew up in a country whose name I cannot pronounce correctly. She was educated in French and Latin, Spanish and German, and when she went off to college, she did not learn in her native language. She went to college in Paris, studied in Berlin. She spent a year in Rome and visited Madrid. She wrote letters home to her parents in an alphabet that I cannot read. I believe once her parents died, she never spoke in her native tongue again.

My mother wrote all day, but never showed anyone what she wrote. She had notebooks she would write in, and a typewriter to straighten out the final copy. Once a page was typed, she ripped it from its notebook and lit it with a match. She left it on a flat stone to burn.

When she had typed pages, she put them in a box. This box was deep under the bed that she and my father share. Once, many years ago when I was very young, I went into their room when they were not home and pulled the box out from beneath the bed. I lifted the top and found two neat piles of typewritten pages. One pile was poetry. I lifted the top page and held it before me. It was written in French.

There were many poems and stories in that box, some in Latin, some in Spanish, some in German. I searched through both piles carefully. There were none in her native tongue. There were also none in English.

I closed the lid and never looked in there again.

My mother never spoke in her native tongue after boarding the train that would take her to Paris. At home, she spoke only in English. Who knows what language she thought in.

There were only two words that she ever said in the real voice, with her real accent, real tongue. I heard her say them only three times in her life. She taught them to me one might as I lay curled on her lap, sweating with fever.

Jiniku,” she whispered, stroking my forehead with her cool hand. “Jiniku.” I focused on her voice through my fever, realizing that something had changed. She was speaking from a part of her that she had not opened for a long time. She took my hand, unraveled my fingers, and placed my palm over her heart. “Juriszu.” She stared out the window. There was a long silence. I could feel her heartbeat, which was calmer and considerably slower than my own. “My name,” she said at last, speaking once more in English, “means ‘dark ocean.’ And you, Jiniku, my precious little one, yours means ‘life.’” She looked out the window again. “‘Ji’ is the word for a happy birth. One where everyone lives and there is little pain. ‘Ni’ is a tree that had its roots spread far and whose branches shelter all. ‘Ku’ is the essence. The spirit. You have this all-encompassing life.” She placed her hand on my heart. “The first and last letters of our names are the same,” she said. “Don’t forget that, Jiniku.”

At that point, my fever rose and I lost the sound of my mother’s voice. I could faintly hear ambulance sirens but could not remember anything of the three weeks I spent in the hospital.

I remember nothing of those weeks, but my father said my mother never left my side. She slept on the chair and she bathed from the sink in my bathroom. At night she would stand by the window and look out at the stars. She could feel my face and place her hand against the cool glass leading outside.

When my mother became ill with cancer, I took a vacation and flew home. We had never been what you might call close, but we both understood that we loved each other fiercely. So when I heard that she was dying I left without a moment’s hesitation. I called, asked a friend to watch my apartment, and obtained up a leave-of-absence form from the office. I had the kind of job where you could take a vacation and not have it matter too much, except that you wouldn’t get paid. When I filled out the leave form, next to the blank that asked for an amount of time, I wrote “three months.” That’s how long the doctors had given her to live. I was back at work in less than nine weeks.

The second time I heard my mother say something in her native language was when I was sixteen. I was in my sophomore year of high school, and though everything seemed to be going well, I felt like it was all sliding out of my grasp. I felt in control and then something would happen—a breakup, a bad grade on a test, an argument with my parents about something trivial—and I could feel myself digging my fingernails in deeper and deeper but still feel my control slipping through my fingers. And that was how it started. With my fingers.

At first I just made small half-moons on my calves, pressing my fingernails in hard until they bled. Things spun out of control faster and faster and soon I used my army knife to slice the skin on my arms and shins. At school instead of going into the bathroom to cry I would lock myself in a stall, take a pin and pick at my skin until it bled. Few people noticed my cuts and when they did I would lie and say I fell. I can’t imagine that they believed me, but whatever they knew, they never said a word.

One day I came home to an empty house after a miserable afternoon —it’s strange, but now I can’t even remember what was so miserable about it. I couldn’t see straight; my head ached and my heart hurt and I started to have trouble breathing. I went to my room to find my army knife but on my way, I glimpsed the knife my mother uses to cut vegetables sitting on the counter. I can’t remember what I thought. I picked up the knife and touched the blade. It drew a small droplet of blood on my fingertip. I sat on the linoleum floor and rolled up my pants leg. When it cut, it cut fast and deep. Army knives take coaxing to hurt you and make you bleed. This fell straight into my skin without resistance and when it came away I could see my bone. I screamed.

That is how my mother found me when she came home: sitting on the floor with her huge kitchen knife in one hand, blood spilling out of a gash on my shin, screaming. She called the ambulance and wrapped my leg in a towel as tightly as she could. The blood seeped through. I screamed. She wrapped her arms around my head. “Jiniku!” she cried. “Jiniku, why do you do this to yourself?”

I have this memory of my mother from a spring day when I was four. There was a lot of sunshine that morning, and I had woken up from the light dancing on my pillow. I padded, sleepy-headed, into the living room, where I sat at the table to a bowl of oatmeal my mother had left for me. It was still warm. I looked out the window and saw her gardening in our yard. She was wearing worn-out and faded jeans with grass stains on the knees, a button-up shirt that had belonged to my father. In one hand was a gardening fork and a straw hat rested on her head, covering her long black hair.

When I saw her, she looked up at something in front of her, and I saw in her sharp profile a nose that looked like it was cut from stone. She looked up suddenly and awkwardly, cocking her head. Her shirt was crooked and one of her pants legs was up too high. The hat began to slide. She made a shooing motion with her wrist, and that is the moment that I saw her, really, for the first time. That still awkward, still small person was my mother.

For the last seven weeks of her life, my mother lay in a hospital bed. I watched her hair fall out in clumps and the fat melt away from her body, leaving only bones and skin. I watched her eyes turn red, her tongue swell up from the medication. Toward the end she began to breathe in gasps, as if just the taking in of oxygen would soon become too much for her frail lungs to bear. It was on one of these days that she used my real name for the last time.

Jiniku.” she whispered, motioning me to come closer. I scooted my chair up nearer her bed. “Here is something important.” She stopped to breathe, and then continued. “I’m going to die soon—”


“I am not so foolish. I know I am dying.” She stroked my hair with her hand. “This is why I am telling you—I left you something.” She coughed. “It is in the closet in my bedroom, behind the dresser. Move it to the side all the way, and you will see a hollow. It is for you, in there.” I nodded. She looked at me. “We love each other,” she said. I nodded again. She looked at the ceiling. “The shame.” Her eyes searched the ceiling, and then she fell asleep. My father returned and I went back to my hotel.

One week after my mother told me about the space behind her dresser, she died. I was not there at the end; there is no dramatic retelling of last words or such sentimental things as grasping loved ones at the critical moment. My father was sleeping in the chair next to my mother, and when he awoke, she was dead. There is nothing more that that.

The funeral was held at the grounds a mile from my parents’ house. It was sunny but the air began to chill. Friends of my mother I had not seen since I had moved away came and offered their sympathies. There were flowers. There is not much more to say.

I stayed with my father in the house for two weeks after my mother died, to help, to mourn. He mostly sat staring into the distance and I made the meals and cleaned up some. My father couldn’t bring himself to touch any of my mother’s things.

One day I went into the closet and shoved the heavy oaken dresser aside, marveling at how my small mother had ever managed such a feat. I exhaled heavily, wiping the perspiration from my brow. And then I saw what she had left me. She had left me notebooks.

These were notebooks that I had never seen her write in. The pages weren’t perforated for easy tearing; she had not burned any of them. I lifted one and opened the cover. One of the yellowed pages I saw her small, clear handwriting, but I couldn’t read any of it; it did not use the Roman alphabet. I opened every notebook and all of them were the same. My mother left me twenty-seven notebooks of writing in a language that I cannot read or understand. She left me the story of the life in her own native tongue.

I did not tell my father about the notebooks. I packed them in a box with my mother’s dresses and jewelry and took them back with me. I hung up the clothes, arranged the jewelry in my own dresser drawers, but the notebooks I left in the box in my closet. I think they are a challenge from my mother; a challenge to her daughter to learn the language of her mother and read what she had written to me. Maybe these are journals she had kept since she left home; how can I know?

I have signed up for a language class starting in a couple months. I think I will go and see how it works out; a friend of mine knows the instructor and said she is very good. The first thing I will learn is how to write my name. I think I had seen my mother write it once, and I copied down somewhere and lost it. But I think I still remember what it is. I think it’s the first word on every page.

Dying Stars

The stars died today.

Somewhere in China.

They surrendered quietly,

Their magic

And their burning.

And the stars cried today.

Tears so white and hard

That in America I felt the pain of each,

As they fell with striking precision

Upon my back. My head.

My hands

That never wanted this.

Yet made it all the same.

The Weight of a Stone

My grandmother died while squatting over a toilet hole dug in the vegetable garden behind our house. People say she deserved it. They say the way of her death shows what a sinful life she lead. God punished her and killed her amidst her own wastes. When they took her body out and wrapped it in a yellow sheet, I did not cry. They laid her in the courtyard out front and her white hair spilled like milk onto the red mud. They say she was very light, wrapped in that yellow sheet. Her soul had left her body and taken all her sinful heaviness away. I could see hints of her withered naked body under that sheet. She was washed clean by her own death, and like a piece of paper that is wetted and left out to dry, I thought she would soon crumble. I did not cry when I looked at the blue hollowness underneath her eyes, or the red puffiness of her cheeks when the rest of her body was a leathery yellow. I did not cry as I circled her body twice in respect. They carried her away on green bamboo sticks that sagged under her light weight. Nothing in her life has ever been stable.

Maybe that’s why I did not cry. I wanted to be the one thing she could count upon as stable. I wanted her withered body under that sheet to know that I was her one success. I wanted to thank her and say yes, yes grandmother, yes; I am strong enough and I will survive.

There was a girl who used to wake up before dawn, and after starting the kitchen fire, she would run to her favorite hilltop and flap her arms like a crazed bird at the rising sun. She always wanted to fly. She would scream and flap arms and send low clouds skittering around her brown ankles like snakes slipping on wet mud. Her silhouette is pinned before a rising golden orb forever. She screams and flaps her arms into eternity.

They say her father favored her since she was the youngest. She was allowed to fly kites with the little village boys. She fought them over defeated kites that floated by from a neighboring kite flight. She climbed trees in her short skirt and bared her bottom to boys who had just discovered fantasizing. Then she picked the ripest fruits—either guavas or oranges or mangoes—and threw them at those boys who were too numbed by their dreams to dodge fast enough. They all punched her arm like they would any other boy, but each one was convinced she was his princess.

She fell in love before she learned how to keep her skirt down. But nobody noticed. They started talking much later—after her mother had given her her first full-sleeved choli and long wraparound dhoti. You could no longer see the clumsy clouds slipping about her bare ankles. They, along with her bare bottom, were hidden from the world. She couldn’t flap her arms as effectively in her stiff choli either. Anyone looking up at her black silhouette against yellow would have blinked once and thought he was seeing a bandaged bird. A bird bound by the cloth of fate. A bird which could never fly. All those who saw her would then click their thick tongues and say, “Poor thing—beechara.” Then they would forget all about her and she would be left flapping for a million other suns.

They married her immediately after she learned that flapping her arms in a stiff cotton choli is never effective. Her father cried as he carried his youngest daughter on his back in the traditional farewell. “Even if she was the fattest thing in the world, her weight could never break my back,” he wept, “but the lightness of her absence will kill me.” He died two days later from a broken back after he fell off a tree while chopping branches for firewood.

She was married into a wealthy house—it had two fields—near the capital, Kathmandu. Her father had made sure that his daughter would never have to climb trees to collect fuel for her next meal.

Her husband, at seventeen, was five years older than she and was growing a beard. Her mother-in-law, who had just touched thirty, looked twenty years older and had a voice like a butcher’s knife. She cut flesh left and right and kept her son under her protective wing. But even she was challenged when her young daughter-in-law refused to sleep with her son. The young thing would flap her stiff arms and scream whenever her goateed husband entered her room. Every night would be a relay of yells with a young fledgling flapping her wings and a horrified mother-in-law chopping feathers with her sharp words. The neighbors complained, family shame started to rattle its old bones, and the mother-in-law said that the worst thing a girl can do is to dirty the honor of her father. My grandmother conceived that night with tears choking her like a mouthful of feathers.

Two days after her son was born, her husband died in his sleep with no apparent cause. His mother decided to blame her daughter-in-law for the misfortune. She banged her head against the wall until it bled, and when her daughter-in-law came to hold her away, she attacked her. She slapped my grandmother on and on while the baby cried in its wicker basket.

Everyone was convinced that my grandmother was a witch. “She hated him, so she killed him,” they said. And anyway, in order to enter the rights of witchcraft, a woman has to sacrifice either her newborn or her husband. She chose the flesh that did not belong to her. Nobody tried to take the other piece of flesh away from her. The baby’s grandmother knew that someone would have to breastfeed the boy, and then someone would have to care for him when she—his grandmother—was gone. Besides, it is always too dangerous to play around with a witch.

Later, my grandmother would throw away the fruits her son gave her for Mother’s Day, with a disgusted expression on her face. “But they are so nice and fresh, look,” I would point with my pudgy finger, and she would say, “I know, but that’s the only way to keep him coming back. You have to be very demanding.” And my father kept on coming, because he believed he was not worthy of his mother’s love.

She showed me a stone, once. It was small and black and extremely heavy. “It fell out of the sky,” she said, “I was sitting on the very top of my favorite hill at home. It was so beautiful from up there. All you could see was blue sky stretching ahead and greenery below. Only eagles soar at that height, and when you are up there, you feel like a bird. The sky was blue, but there was lightning. I knew a storm was coming, but I did not care. I did not care because that was my last day on my hill. So I was just sitting there with folded legs, when suddenly this stone fell out of the sky and onto my lap. Just like that.”

She placed the stone in the center of my palm and I shivered. “That stone holds all my troubles,” she said. “It’s a little packet that represents my life. God tells me that I can hold it in my palm. I tell you that you can, too. Just hold it in your palm, and then you can look at it from a bird’s-eye view—just like an eagle. It is the only way to survive. Look at how small it is, so irrelevant. But feel how heavy it is. It can weigh you down. Amazing, isn’t it?” She kept that stone because her only purpose was I, and my only purpose is the stone of life.

Just before my grandmother died, she had taken to walking out into the fields at night with withered arms flapping and cracking at her sides. No one came to her funeral. They were scared by her lightness. But she was always light, I tell them; all her heaviness is in the stone. They just wrinkled their noses at me and said that I had gotten too much under her influence. Only my father cried like a baby at her funeral. She has made him weak with her fear of losing him.

My grandmother died five years ago, and tomorrow I am getting married to the man I love. I am walking up a steep hill and there are silver hints of lightning where the hilltop breaks into the sky. I know this is the greatest purpose of my life.

I hurl a small black stone into blueness. There is lightness in my open palm. I open my arms up to my shoulders and feel the wind, hot with sparks of lightning, sweep up my face. I wonder what happened to my grandmother’s one true love. Where is he? Although there is a strong temptation, I resist flapping my arms. Let all the people looking up at my silhouette mistake me for a soaring eagle, soaring above a million more storms to come. The ghost of a flightless bird takes the first drop of rain into her mouth and soars. Soars; just like that.

Glass Bead Realizations

She went to the land of Bollywood with a glass bead wedding necklace hanging loosely from her neck like a noose before it gives its snapping goodbye. She went to the land of dreams with pride coloring her shadow; a haughty swing of her thick plait; and why not? Her name was Sapana—she was named after a dream.

Why not? I thought, though I cried the night before because she got the chance bestowed to her curvy hips, her white Colgate smile, her Lackmed eyes. And what about me? What about me. I have never had the smartness of a woman.

I envied her from the day I realized that looking pretty was more important than being rough. I had always been good in games, in fighting, in being, well… rough. When we were much younger, I used to bully her so badly that she never joined any of our games. She became a weak ghost, a girl who was just that… a girl. No more. Well I… well; I was more of a boy, a fighter, someone who laughed when the mother advised the daughter to wash her hair in red mud to make it shiny and black as coal. I ran after kites and learned that slamming the flat of your hand into someone’s face is much more effective than curling that same hand into a fist. I learned that one should never box someone with the thumb hidden inside the white-knuckled clench of a fist. I learned that if someone digs at your eyes with two fingers, you could just bring your flattened hand vertically up at your nose, and whoever’s fingers however long, would never reach your eyes. I learned that being flat was more beneficial than being round.

The day I discovered that I was turning round, that my legs could not carry me fast enough, that the boys I used to beat up now towered over me; anger glinted inside like a raised knife waiting to fall. From then on, I stopped fighting with boys and started fighting with girls instead. I could have died for my gang—a group of seven girls who knew that their only honor was their strength.

One day my friend was walking down the road after a harvest party with a cup of alcohol made out of rice gurgling in her stomach. She bumped into an older woman with a baby clinging onto her hip; and the woman turned around and told her to watch where she was going, if she wanted so much to bump into somebody, why not pick on a boy and not a woman with child. My friend lunged for the woman, who managed to push her baby just in time into the arms of a stunned passer-by. With sour rice spinning in her head, she grabbed the first thing she could lay her hands on—the hanging glass bead wedding necklace of the older woman. My friend would have choked the woman if the latter had not bitten her hand so hard that it bled. When she came crying to us, shamed, with a bleeding hand, we promised to revenge her.

A gang of young girls met a gang of married women on an open field. They swore at each other across the field, draining their vocabulary of all possible provocative words. Then they ran at each other. One group slammed faces with the flat of trained hands. The other tried to box with clenched fists, thumbs hidden in… at least that was what we expected. But no, both groups used the flat of their hands, both groups were equally trained, both groups were down on the ground before a batch of nearby factory workers separated bodies that grabbed for each other like angry magnets. That was the day I realized that those married women had been like us once upon a time. It was only the glass bead necklace that made all the difference. From that day, I promised never to enter a fight again unless I wanted to make a total fool of myself.

We were playing a game of volleyball in our village school. A group of soldiers were staring at us from the barracks adjacent to our school. I felt anger at the leering stares; while I pulled my shorts a little lower down my hips so that they touched the top of my knees. Then I rounded in my shoulders so that they hid the roundness of my chest. Just as I realized that though flatness was more advantageous, roundness would be with me my whole life; I saw Sapana at the edge of the field, leaning over the fence to receive a red rose from the best looking of all the soldiers. She was smiling, saying something while flicking her black hair away from her face with a flat hand. I realized that there were many ways to win, many ways to use a flat hand.

I did not see the compact white roundness of the volleyball come flying towards me. By the time the other girls screamed words of warning, I had turned my face away from the fence just in time to receive the full force of the ball smack in the middle of my forehead. Roundness introduced herself to me the way I had always wanted—with a punch. They say I blacked out after that. The only thing I remember is waking up seeing nothing but the white sun and thinking nothing but that Sapana had listened to her mother and washed her hair with red mud, making in shiny and black as coal.

Somewhere between feeling the volleyball slap my forehead and waking up thinking that Sapana had washed her hair with red mud, I realized that I had missed something in life; that something had zoomed past me with the speed of a taxi, and I was left behind choking on the hot fumes.

Sapana came to school every day on the arms of a boy, the same one, a different one; I could not catch up on the latest news of her life. She gained popularity so fast; my previous gang friends joined her company. They started looking at boys themselves. They began smiling, talking, giggling, slapping back loose strands of hair with the flat of hands. They started washing their hair with red mud.

A week ago Sapana took off with one of her boy friends. “Eloped”—the news came in the form of hot speedy gossip. Everyone else’s question was “which one?” My question was “how?” Some said it was the one who dropped her to school on his brand new motorbike once. Others said it was the one who bought her a new sari. No one said how.

Two days later, another piece of gossip fired through our tiny village—Sapana has been sold, it screamed in bold letters, she has been sold to a whorehouse in Bombay. The boy only pretended to fall in love with her. He asked her to marry him. He said he would take her to his rich house in India. She flicked back her shiny and coal black hair and thought she would finally be out of here. She would finally show all these people who she really was. She would no longer be bossed around. She would finally be somebody. Her shadow colored with pride.

At first I cried because I had not learned how to become a woman. Then I cried because Sapana had not learned how to become the right type of woman.

I cried for her as I fought. I cried for her future as I broke my promise to myself. I cried for the man who sold her as I broke jaws with the flat of my hand.

I have earned a black belt in karate. I have fought with men. I have won national tournaments. I have fallen in love. In a month’s time I am going to start hanging a glass bead wedding necklace about my neck. What I will do with that necklace—that will be the hardest fight of all.

Hues (Memories of Africa)

Liquid orange silver sliding;

clichéd crimson sky and still

more lovely than a postcard.

Tinted lilac firelit granite

crinkles, smiling, at the sun

shadowed smoky grazes stretch.

Rumpled sheets of powdered ice cream

gently stained by molten gold

sculpted quartz by careless feet.


Rippling panes of tufted tundra:

terracotta pastel-fired

sharp mosaics of thirsty loam.

Cold-still branches soak the sunlight

dappled brown from burlap-greys

silent in the crystal haze.

Blinkless, bloodwashed, bloated, blazing

daylight heaves into the sky

burning whitewashed morning brown.

Just Mere Chance Decides?

I was returning from school, blowing big bubbles out of the Big Babol bubble gum in my mouth, trying to decide how I would spend the evening, when I felt a light tug at my knees from behind.

I turned around. It was a little boy of five or six: brown skin burnt in the sun, tattered shorts faded but dark with dirt. Black hair turning reddish; lack of protein, I remembered from biology. Swelled belly. Yep, lack of protein. He produced a small, cupped hand. “Baia, ekta taha than na!”* Dry broken voice. Parched throat: extremely thirsty. I brought out my wallet and fished for all the change; it totaled around five or six taka, I guess. Put them down into the little hand. The sheer magnitude of the offer was a glow in his eyes. Maybe his first earning of the day. Without second thought, I turned back on my way.

On second thought, a few seconds later, I turned around again. He was counting his income. A little, undernourished child: not at school, but in the streets. Not enough clothes to dress properly. No one to take care. I looked up. There was another boy, also five to six. Neatly pressed grey shorts and white shirt. A young lady, the mother perhaps, takes the school bag from the child and gives him a small chocolate bar. He throws it away. I looked to the other side of the street. Yep, ice-cream; that’s what he wants. The mother gets him a big one from the vendor. And then the chauffeur descends from the car and opens the door for the two of them. The car speeds away. A newly washed Honda: polished dazzling deep green.

I looked down on this other boy. He was staring at me. Wondering. About what, I don’t know. I took out my wallet, again. A fresh, twenty-taka note. I gave it to him. He was more confused and amazed than ever.

I turned back and returned home.

Being a citizen of this Third World country, where a majority of the population lives in abject poverty, in conditions worse than that of the boy mentioned above, I could never justify the differences between the rich and the poor. Why is life so fair to some people that they have enough money to spend on lavish ice cream and candies, while so unfair to others who can hardly eat even once a day? Why is it that some people have to sleep in the open air, on the footpaths, while others at luxurious Home Sweet Homes find it hard to decide which side of the huge, soft, bed they’ll sleep on?

I never found the answer.

A dirty little child, or an old hobbling beggar is something I never wanted to face when I go out into the streets of the city. It sets off thoughts in me. I start calculating. If the 120 million people of the country were to give one taka each, we’d have 120 million taka. That’s a lot. No, maybe only 60 million people can afford to give just a taka each. Sixty million bucks. That’s still a lot. No, why not just 5 million people give ten bucks each. 50 million taka. We could use that to feed a lot of the poor. Save some lives.

Nah, won’t work. People don’t care.

Is it just mere chance that decides whether the boy I mentioned above is not the one that goes to school and that the rich kid is not the one that begs? Is it just by a mere game of chance that some are born in marbled palaces while others are doomed to slum-life? The persistent, irritating beggar who asks you for a little money or food, do you think it is his fault that he was born to do this job?

Do we just let it go like this?

Don’t you think we could do something?


* – “Just a taka, please?” (The author is a citizen of Bangladesh, a country of the Indian subcontinent with a population of 120 million. Taka: Unit of Bangladesh currency, equivalent to approximately $0.018 at the time of writing.)

Land Lost in the Current

I noticed the rivers first. From the airplane window I watched them pour, brown and silty, into the blue ocean. Smaller streams converged, carrying the island’s sediment to the sea. I didn’t have to fall back on my boy scout training in soil and water conservation to know that something was out of balance. It seemed little wonder that the rivers were so dirty—hardly any vegetation stood out on the brown hills.

We began descending, and the land flew by as the plane grew closer. Open land, scattered with villages, came into view, then individual shacks, structures amounting to little more than scraps of tin, cardboard, and spare lumber. It was difficult to get a good look at them from the sky, but soon people were visible, black specks laboring in dirt yards. Thousands of feet overhead, their suffering and sadness was thick around me.

Then, out of the distance, a cluster of cement and rust and walls: Port-au-Prince. It looked bad from the air—the place emanated poverty—but once inside, it was more a hellhole of humanity.

Buildings rushed by faster now, and although they were not far below, they grew more difficult to distinguish. The airport came into view, our runway straight ahead. We landed for the third time that day. When the plane came to a stop on the airstrip, we strained to see the airport building through the windows, catching glimpses of turquoise walls and black men pressed to the railing that lined the rooftop.

Finally, the aisles cleared enough that the fifteen of us from a church of sixty in Glen Rock, Pennsylvania, could make our way past the cockpit to the door. I came squinting into the bright sun at the top of a set of stairs, and my senses sprung to life, soaking up as much of the scene as my spirit would contain. The air was hot, but less humid than at home; the sky was bluer; clouds wisped by. Directly before me, only a few hundred yards away, stood men, flesh and blood humans, black skin shining in the sunlight on the airport rooftop. I had tried, but never had I imagined them to be so real.

A member of my group who was ahead of me, already on the airstrip below, waved and yelled “Marcel!” One of the Haitians crowded onto the rooftop broke into a broad smile and waved. I waved back as I began descending the stairs. He would be our guide and primary translator for the next nine days. On the gray cement runway, littered with long, zigzagging cracks, our group collected, then walked toward the glass doors of the airport.

Inside we waited in line on pale red tiles with white speckles. A white sign on the wall read, “We apologize for the poor conditions at the airport, but we are doing everything we can to repair it.” At the customs counter, which looked more like a ticket booth, two men muttered a thickly accented “Hi,” before checking, stamping, and signing our passports.

We walked down a hallway to a large room where luggage conveyor belts wove amongst the crowd. We watched for our suitcases and we looked around at the chaos. Two murals brought life to the room, celebrating some event in Haitian history. Bored army officers stood with machine guns.

We piled our gear onto carts, then took them to a waiting room where Marcel met us. He quickly briefed us on what to do when we entered the courtyard outside, but I only caught a little of what he said.

“If someone touches the suitcase you are carrying, even just lays a hand on it, tell them, ‘no.’ They’ll expect payment for even appearing to help you carry it.”

Reentering the Haitian heat, we were immediately approached by lines of men in dirty polo shirts, and we kept our heads down and told them “no.” We piled our gear in the middle of a macadam courtyard surrounded by a chain-link fence and circled around it to keep anyone from trying to carry it for us. Marcel and two of the adult leaders went to bring the trucks sent to carry us to St. Marc, where we were spending the week at a missions compound.

They were stalled by men arguing that they should have a chance at carrying our gear. Once they were in the parking lot, the gate shut behind them. Black men lined the outside of the fence, holding onto the links like prisoners clinging to the bars of their jail cells.

It was a stirring portrait of the country’s plight, so for the first time I grabbed my camera and focused a shot, until a man to my right hollered at me in Creole to put it away. I didn’t get the shot on film, but it stands in my memory: desperate, impoverished men, clinging to a fence, believing with all their might that if only they were to get past the fence and place a hand on our bags that they could eat for a few days.

Guilty Land

The wind on its course, set by some unseen navigator, gently caressed the trees as it ambled on…


It seemed to hint that it was only a foretaste of the impending holocaust which was in preparation for the great beginning of its oppressive tyranny.

The sky turned cold…

From seemingly nowhere, a giant monstrosity, like a judge, clothed in deep blackness, stepped onto the heavenly stage…

The sun cowered as it was drawn away and imprisoned behind doors and walls of darkness, enveloping its light, cutting it off from the world below.

An eeriness brooded over the earth. The seas grew restless. The great, dark tyrant maddening them like hungry savages waiting to gorge themselves on their prey.

The slamming of doors and the latching of windows could be heard, almost in spontaneous chorus, for we knew what was coming…

Lightning tore across the sky, seeking to bring ruin on the tallest, unlucky victim it could find in its brief but relentless mission.

A low, heavy rolling sound prevailed over the mountaintops, like a jury gloating heartlessly over the sentence meted out to the unfortunate soul.

The cloud, like a commanding officer, lined up its troops, all brilliantly dressed in cold, white uniforms, ready to destroy at the command…

Dissipation was ordered.

The fleet of deadly bullets (summoned to action) was set on course beyond the point of no return to fulfill a destiny of courage, honor and self-sacrifice.

Plants of all shapes, sizes and ‘walks’ of life were crumpled under the heavy blows of the nefarious hailstones and beaten to a pulp.

Tin roofs caved in like foil, exposing all they had to protect, like a new box of tissues being broken open and its contents torn to shreds.

Cars, as if made of balsa wood, were ruthlessly pelted, like targets at a shooting range; they buckled, bent beyond repair.

The ignorant animals in the fields were not even found innocent. They were struck down one by one, disintegrating under the ceaseless shelling of damning hailstones. Bodies were left to rot on the open plains that resembled gigantic abattoirs.

The judgment had been successfully carried out and the sun was set free once again to roam the skies and heal the broken land with its warmth.

The heartless laughter of the evil beast and his jury could still be heard in the distance as they slowly subsided over the horizon.


the invisible navigator saw fit to direct the path of the wind to caress our trees again, and…




its secret warning.